ONE of the reasons Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were able to cast ancient Norse gods as modern comic-book superheroes was that they were comparatively unknown, Richard Wagner and the names of our weekdays notwithstanding. Here, then, are a few terms so you can tell your Asgard from a Hel in the ground.
- Asgard: Home of the Norse gods. One of the nine worlds of Norse mythology.
- Bifröst: The rainbow bridge linking Asgard to our world.
- Thor: God of thunder and storms, prayed to by farmers for good harvest, and (possibly) inspiration for one of the loudest Kiss songs ever recorded. Thor became Marvel’s Superman stand-in — strong, noble, powerful and good. A far cry from his ready-to-rumble Norse incarnation, whose violent temper was legendary.
- Giants: Bad news. The frost giants are often at war with gods and mortals, and the fire giant Surtur will destroy the world at Ragnarök.
- Hel: The land of the dead, for the unlucky souls not killed in battle.
- Loki:The trickster figure of Norse myths. Half-giant by heritage, it’s not always clear whose side he’s on, and his schemes help bring about
Ragnarök. For this, Odin, Thor, et. al. tie him up with his own entrails in an underground cave. Not too forgiving of tricksters, were the Norse. In Marvel’s version, he’s also Thor’s half-brother and perennial villain
- Midgard: Earth.
- Mjölnir: Thor’s enchanted hammer. In Marvel’s version, also a very nasty boomerang. When thrown, it always returns to Thor’s hand.
- Odin: Thor’s father (and Loki’s, according to Marvel). Sacrificed his own eye to gain wisdom.
- Thursday: The day of the week that still retains Thor’s name. (Odin’s is Wednesday, so no points if you can guess, in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, who the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday really is.)
- Valhalla: The great hall where Odin houses warriors slain in battle, who will fight the giants at Ragnarök.
- Ragnarök: The end of the world. Literally means “the fate of the gods,” i.e., what will ultimately happen to them, not “the twilight of the gods” as mistranslated by Wagner. Following all the destruction, a new paradise is built, and it is called… Gimli. No, really.
— David Jón Fuller
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 5, 2011, D5